Dancers benefit from the macronutrient mix (sometimes I refer to this as a dancer’s “fuel mix“). A dancer’s fuel mix resembles a combination of carbohydrates, protein, and fat in each meal.
Among the three macros, protein often stands as the “star macronutrient,” especially for dancers and athletes looking to build muscle. As a result, carbohydrates and fat take the brunt of diet culture’s negative press. Both of these macros, however, provide fuel for a dancer’s working muscles.
It’s recommended that carbohydrates make up at least 55-60% of a dancer’s diet with up to 65% for more intense training schedules. Despite the common “good” carb versus “bad” carb debate, those who follow me know that avoiding any food for the sole reason of nutrition is not the best route towards sustainable habits. To better understand why carbohydrates will benefit your performance, let’s discuss 5 reasons why carbohydrates are a necessity on your plate.
#1: Replenish Muscle Glycogen
When the carbohydrates from your meal are digested, they’re broken down into simple sugars, the main being glucose. Glucose is either (1) used immediately to fuel muscle activity or (2) stored in your liver and muscles as glycogen. Liver glycogen is the primary fuel source for your brain and red blood cells. Muscle glycogen is the primary fuel source for intense activity (like dancing). Your body can access and deplete muscle glycogen quickly (within just 90 minutes!). Therefore, we need to consistently replenish our muscle glycogen throughout the day. This is where your meals and snacks come in handy!
#2: Fiber, Fiber, Fiber
Fiber refers to the complex carbohydrates found in most plant foods. Fiber slows digestion, resulting in a slow and steady release of the simple sugars mentioned earlier. This translates into steady energy levels for longer periods. Fiber also resists digestion, allowing it to be used as food for the nourishment of our gut bacteria.
#3: “Complex” Carbs Supply Longlasting Energy
As mentioned above, complex carbs found in whole-form plant foods like whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes, come naturally packaged with a fibrous exterior. Fiber slows the digestive breakdown of carbohydrates, resulting in a steadier release of glucose. This prevents sudden spikes in energy and rather, promotes a longer-lasting level of energy. To boost the power of your daily meals, try these recipe swaps high in complex carbs:
- Add bean-based pasta to your dinner.
- Create a DIY grain bowl using a high fiber grain like barley, farro, or quinoa
- Use sprouted grain bread for your next sandwich
- Choose fruits with edible peels, like apples and berries
#4: “Simple” Carbs Give A Quick Boost
Since muscle glycogen depletes quickly, dancers may need access to an additional burst of energy mid-to-late rehearsal. Simple carbs lack fiber and therefore, digest quickly. As a result, a quicker dose of energy is provided to your working muscles. Simple carbs are found in fruit (those without an edible peel like melon), sweets, and juices.
#5: Support a Working Metabolism
Grain-based carbohydrates (specifically when made with whole grains) are incredible sources of many B vitamins, including thiamine (B1), niacin (B3), and folate (B9). Each holds a role in energy production and cellular metabolism. Gluten-free and carb-free diets risk low intakes of these essential nutrients because of the omittance of grains, pasta, cereal, and bread.
Now that you know why carbohydrates benefit a dancer, it’s time to separate the fear from carbs and instead, add them to your daily meal plans. If you’re craving a cookie, enjoy it mindfully. If you’re looking for a dose of energy to get you through those last 32 fouettés, then try fresh fruit. How will you choose to incorporate carbohydrates into your day? Let me know in the comment section below!